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Big East Shakeup Not Good for Providence or Rhode Island

May 7, 2012

With John Marinatto’s departure as commissioner, the Big East Conference is in yet another upheaval and the news for Providence and Rhode Island’s isn’t good.

It is hard to believe that Marinatto left on his own; anyone who knows him knows that this was a dream job for the Rhode Island native and onetime Providence College athletic director.

Marinato was just the third commissioner in Big East history and he held the job for less than three years. He was likely a victim of the turmoil that has roiled the conference in the last few years, especially the split between the colleges that play only basketball and those that play both football and basketball.

Some of the conference’s leading programs (and fan draws), incl;uding Syracuse University, West Virginia University and the University of Pittsburgh, have decided to leave in just the past year. While university presidents love to talk about their scholar-athletes and the great academic programs they offer to athletes, the decisions to change conferences like some people change shirts is largely about nothing more than money. If you think college sports is about homecoming weekend and cheering crowds, then you believe in the Easter Bunny and your chances of winning the Powerball.

The television contracts that provide millions upon millions to the colleges are the linchpins of college sports these days. The negotiating period for the Big East’s ESPN contracts begins in September and it is clear that the college presidents in the Big East did not want Marinatto leading those talks. The Big East television contracts are reportedly worth $200 million or more.

The conference has been very successful, especially in basketball. Big East teams have won 6 NCAA championships and 16 conference teams have made the coveted Final Four (including the PC Friars in 1987). It was originally a basketball conference with 7 schools, most of them such Roman Catholic colleges as PC, Boston College, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Georgetown. The University of Connecticut, which has won three NCAA hoop crowns, is also a charter member.

The Big East was the brainchild of the late Dave Gavitt, Rhode Island’s Mr. Basketball, who was a legendary PC coach and onetime president of USA Basketball and president of the Boston Celtics. Gavitt was one of the most respected men in basketball but he died last year and the relationships he built up over many years have withered.

Mike Tranghese, who worked for Gavitt at both PC and the Big East, took over as commissioner in 1990 and retired in 2009. Tranghese gained a reputation as a fine chief of the conference, negotiating lucrative television rights agreements and winning the respect of coaches and athletic directors. But even Tranghese had difficulties making the football schools happy towards the end of his tenure.

The Mayflower moving van hasn’t come to downtown Providence yet, but the future of the Big East headquarters in Providence (home to the conference offices since 1979) is up in the air.

When asked what may happen to the Providence headquarters, Big East spokesman John Paquette said, “well, we’re going to hire a new commissioner so it is hard to say.’’

The conference reportedly has an 8-year lease on its downtown Providence offices, but that could be bought out. If the headquarters moves, New York City – the nation’s media capital- would be a likely destination.

The interim commissioner is John A. Bailey III, a former CEO of the Miami Dolphins. The head of the Big East presidents group is Judy Genshaft, president of the University of South Florida, which is not an institution with ties to New England.

The other downside for Providence is the possibility of fewer shots at such national events as the NCAA regional basketball games, which bring thousands to the city, filling hotel rooms and restaurants.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Doane permalink
    May 8, 2012 2:23 pm

    Hey Big Guy, Don’t weep over the loss of Syracuse. The Atlantic Coast Conference welcomes the Orange Men with open arms.

  2. May 8, 2012 8:58 pm

    Scott , is college sports your “political” beat now ?

    It’s all about mioney, that’s all big time college sports is. Even women’s NCAA basketball has to draw in the big bucks, which is why UCONN, Tennessee and Baylor can recruit and win. This is a whole new era for Baylor, this year’s NCAA women champion.

    Marinatto was old school, not up to the fast action of media marketing (see Bill Reynolds today in the ProJo). Nice guy, local face, very loyal, but not up to the
    demands of the competition for the TV bucks I guess. Moreover, as you say, the Big East has been in turmoil for some years now.

    And let us not forget the NCAA is essentially a corrupt organization that exploits student-athletes for its’ own coffers and to enrich the schools who want and need the bucks. (see Atlantic Monthly article a few monts ago).

    College sports finances is just the second scandal about “higher education”. in the United States. The real big scandal that going to a very good college or even a second-level college or gradute school incurs a near life-time indebtedness for most graduates ! At least athletes get “scholarship” help.

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